Reflections: The Army, Foreign Policy, Life and War

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Lately I’ve thought quite a bit how my concepts and perceptions of America’s role in the world have changed, what America should do in regards to its foreign policy and about my choice to join the Army. I’d like to talk a bit about Army life, my choice to join the Army, the Army’s future and mine. Some of these thoughts are rather random.

Comparing my previous job as a police officer to my position in the Army, I sometimes wonder if I’d go back if given the chance. The answer I’ve come up with is: No. I’d stay right where I am. Of course there are some very difficult things to deal with in the Army, but I think overall it suits me well. I’ve had to adapt somewhat, but I’m good at this. The best thing is the chance to do so many things while in the military. The upward mobility is much more evident than it was at the police department and I’m satisfied with my pay and benefits. Not to mention that I don’t have to deal with obnoxious drunk people very often. I get a lot of time off–plenty of four-day weekends and 30 days of leave a year. I’ll never starve in the Army. I remember working for the PD, living paycheck to  paycheck many times, though I can’t say I felt I was underpaid. I consider both the Army and police work to be an honor and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity.

I have so much more to learn both about the Army itself and the very technical aspects of my work as an Intelligence Analyst. I like the challenge though. I get to see the world, though I’m looking forward to being stationed in the States again. I miss my country and the sense of freedom there.

It’s exciting to me to think about all of the learning I’m going to be doing, and the things I’ll have to write about and tell my kids. The promotion system is very motivating–kind of like leveling up in a game. You earn points for doing well and learning different skills and than when your time comes, if you have enough points you get promoted.

As far as the future of the Army and its role in the world: The nature of near-future conflicts is of course going to be different than the set piece wars of decades ago. We’re the dog who caught the car and now doesn’t know what to do. I was reading an article the other day about the war in Afghanistan. Some people were commenting about asymmetric warfare (guerilla warfare), saying tha Saddam Hussein should have used guerilla warfare instead of trying to fight straight up. I think this misses the point. Hussein could not have retained any of his power while conducting guerilla warfare. He would have been driven underground with his fighters, living like a dog. Hussein never had a chance. He was a fool, who would be alive today had he taken GW Bush up on his offer to simply leave power, or at least let people in to look for WMD.

Some are understandably very critical of the military’s choice of hardware purchases. Things like the F-22 Raptor. Many of these people speak as if we will never have to fight a conventional war again. While we should narrow our focus to the matter at hand, we must remember that conventional warfare is much more dangerous to fight than any counterinsurgency America will be fighting in the coming years. We should remain flexible, ever ready to change our course of action should another nation rise to confront us. The Russo/Georgian conflict shows full well that conventional conflicts can raise their disastrous heads at any movement. And the terrorists are getting better. They’re learning,a s the 2006 Israeli/Hezbollah war showed. The terrorists, armed with ultra-modern anti-tank missiles, used somewhat conventional methods of warfare–a defense-in-depth spider web–to wreak havoc on Israeli Merkava tank advances. Hezbolla was even able to hack the Israeli communication systems, enabling them to place defensive positions where attacks were likely to occur.

In some ways, Hezbollah’s success is exaggerated; the Israelis still maintained about 7:1 kill ratios. But this still surprised analysts who are used to complete Arab ineptness in war fighting. 

It is interesting to speak about foreign policy, what wars should be fought, what ones shouldn’t. But in the end, I think a Soldier should separate himself from the political sphere and go about his job as a professional. Of course he does have morals. A Soldier on the battlefield, especially in a counterinsurgency situation, is asked to exercise his judgement and restraint to a much greater extant than the ranting pundits. And he has to do it while bullets fly at him. When Soldiers meet on the battlefield, it is a primal endeavor. Warriors on either side know they may die. It is Warriors that fight wars and win or lose them. Were it merely enough to “out-nice” the enemy, it’s doubtful there’d a war to fight at all. For instance, if we really have to worry that the Taliban is being nicer than we are to Afghan citizens, why are we worried about the Taliban? But when a Warrior in a Western Democracy is asked to fight, he should do his duty. His enemy, his counter-part Soldier, will forgive him. Soldiers in Western cultures pick up a fallen enemy Soldier, dust him off, offer him warm cup of coffee and a bed. This, I admit, is an adequate argument against enhanced interrogation techniques. Our Warriors should fight, and when the battle’s over, show the enemy why we’re better than they are, even after we’ve reminded them we’re better fighters, too.

Intelligence and its interpretation will rule the battlefield of the next generation. Knowing exactly where the enemy is has never been easier. Only the rapidity of modern mechanized warfare may outrun the intelligence collection array. In fact, the complexity, fluidity and speed of modern warfare has likely surpassed the ability of the human mind to keep up. The thrusts, ripostes, counter-attacks. The various methods of attack and defense. Future symmetrical fights will be over and done with before the TV cameras can expand their tripods. And this is a good thing for free nations. It is the character of media to criticise good more than evil. Evil gets a pass, because well, it’s evil and that’s what it’s supposed to do–evil things.

America will have to decide what it expects from its military. Is genocide, the possibility of rogue states possessing WMD, the harboring or training of international terrorists, enough to send our troops to a foreign land, to fight, to die, to risk the critical eyes of the world? We must ask ourselves these questions, or risk watering a  growing tree of cynicism.

The utter destructiveness of massed industrial war may be enough of a deterrent to avoid it for the coming decades. Instead, state actors will be like two men in a bar, puffing their chests, unable to back down and lose face. They’re more likely to slash the other guy’s tire in the parking lot than get into a fight. The cost of the fight is too high.

On the other hand, there is the aggressive drunk with whom the bar owners must deal. In this case, it is radical Islam, intoxicated with religious zeal. The Jihadist becomes part of an angry mob. Warlike, aggressive and absolutist, Islamic extremism abhors the perceived feminized West. We in the West will give soccer balls to children. The terrorists will train the children to blow themselves up. We will build and paint schools, and the terrorists will knock them down. We have fooled ourselves and ignored the most powerful factor in human history: Culture. Anything can be made morally right, anything is possible if one’s culture says it is.

Oddly, the lack of a real, professional, warrior class amongst the Arab nations allows their violent, human nature to show through. We need not ask if man will fight, but over what ideal he has that makes him willing to die for it. Instead of Myrmidons or Samurai–proud warriors set apart from the rest of their countrymen– Muslim nations are more akin to a barbarian horde. They lack discipline, cohesion, military standards. In fact, our most professional trainers, the best in the world at what they do, are finding that it is nearly impossible to impart military professionalism of any high standard to the army and police in Afghanistan. While our positivism may be our greatest strength, we need a dose of realty. When 70% percent of a country, such as in Afghanistan, cannot read or write, how do we propose that operations orders and police reports get written?

Man does not like peace for very long. He will begin to romanticize images of war even as it rages around him. In film, novels, video games. We must stop lying to ourselves; humans like to fight. If we can admit this, we can avoid being on the losing end of a fight. It’s a very bad thing to lose a war.

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One thought on “Reflections: The Army, Foreign Policy, Life and War

    Lou said:
    March 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    I recently had a conversation with my uncle (a retired army vet including the Ia Drang Valley battle). He was all praise and awe at the soldiers today who choose Army and make it their career. He talked about the intelligence it takes to be military today compared to his day. I admire my uncle more than any other man in the world, and he would admire you.

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